Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of MLS expansion franchises will open the 2015 season against one another on Sunday as Orlando City SC welcomes New York City FC to the Citrus Bowl.
While Orlando joins MLS from USL Pro, New York is an entirely new organization, but both rosters have taken shape quite nicely heading into their inaugural seasons in the top flight of American soccer.
With over 13,000 season ticket holders on the books before its opening match, Orlando's supporters have their sights set on a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, and it will be Brazilian superstar Kaka leading the charge.
At 32 years old, Kaka certainly has lost a step since the days of his FIFA Ballon d'Or capture (2007), but his skill and anticipatory instincts remain intact, which should serve him well in the slightly slower pace of MLS.
Of course, one-man teams never amount to much, but Orlando has managed to assemble one of the better MLS expansion rosters in recent memory.
Brek Shea will offer some dynamism to contrast Kaka's skill and close control. The United States international also brings a wealth of versatility as he can operate underneath a striker, on the left flank, or even as a left-back. Wherever Shea is deployed, though, one thing is for certain: he possesses one of the most dangerous left foots in MLS.
Orlando also boasts some firepower up front, bringing in journeyman striker Danny Mwanga from the Colorado Rapids while landing University of Connecticut product Cyle Larin with the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
In addition to Larin and Mwanga, Orlando also acquired Honduras international forward Bryan Rochez. At 20 years of age, Rochez is one of the youngest Designated Players in the league, arriving in central Florida from Honduran Primera Division club Real Espana.
New York has made some splashes as well, beginning with the appointment of longtime Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis.
Kreis, who guided the Claret and Cobalt to an MLS Cup triumph in 2009, took a step back from MLS after leaving RSL and spent the better part of a year in England watching the coaching methods of Manchester City in order to hone his tactics.
On the field, the club will roll out plenty of talent, including European stars David Villa, Frank Lampard and U.S. national teamer Mix Diskerud.
Villa, 35, was the club's first-ever signing when he arrived in the Big Apple on a free transfer from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid in June. Villa brings world-class talent and can thrive up top by himself or with a striker partner.
Lampard, the former Chelsea midfielder, will miss the first few months of the season and is likely to arrive in July after the Premier League season concludes. Lampard is currently playing for Manchester City, and there has been some confusion as to whether he will actually be coming to New York, but the 36-year-old London native reassured NYC fans in January that he will be with the club in the summer.
Diskerud came to New York on a free transfer from Norwegian side Rosenborg after the club moved up to the No. 1 spot in the league's allocation rankings. The 24-year-old has been capped 25 times for the U.S. men's team, and he should jump right into a No. 10 role with NYCFC.
In addition to those three stars, NYCFC has assembled a team rife with former RSL players and serviceable MLS veterans.
Midfielders Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez, goalkeeper Josh Saunders and defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe should mesh immediately with NYC as they all played for Kreis at RSL.
The club also boasts several reliable veterans in defenders Jeb Brovsky, Jason Hernandez and George John, while Andrew Jacobson, who has had MLS stints with D.C. United, Philadelphia Union and FC Dallas, will help keep possession in the middle of the park.
Both NYCFC and Orlando City have their sights set on marking their inaugural MLS campaigns with postseason soccer, and three points at the Citrus Bowl would make for an ideal first step toward achieving that goal.